What’s the darkest second you’ve ever seen in a rock ‘n’ roll documentary? Up till now, I’d have mentioned the reply was apparent: the sequence in “Gimme Shelter” the place Meredith Hunter, in his lime-green go well with, rushes the stage at Altamont with a gun in his hand and will get stabbed within the again, half a dozen occasions, by a member of the Hell’s Angels. For pure coronary heart of darkness, what might high that? But I’ve simply seen “Anita,” Svetlana Zill and Alexis Bloom’s excellent documentary about Anita Pallenberg — stunning and imperious scenester of the ’60s and ’70s, Hollywood actress and icon of scruffy-chic rock royalty, spouse of Keith Richards, muse to a number of of the opposite Rolling Stones. And there’s a second in it that made me suck in my breath in shock and horror as a lot as “Gimme Shelter” does.
The 12 months is 1976. Keith and Anita have been residing as a slovenly, decadent model of a home household unit. We’re heard their lives described, with disarming honesty, by Anita, whose phrases are taken from the manuscript of “Black Magic,” an autobiography she wrote however by no means printed. (It’s learn as narration by Scarlett Johansson.) Keith and Anita’s son, Marlon Leon Sundeep, is 6 years outdated (his two center names carry the initials “LSD,” à la “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). Their daughter, Dandelion Angela, is simply three. Mired in medication (acid, cocaine, heroin) and recognized all over the world for it, to the purpose that it’s onerous for them to discover a place that may have them, Keith and Anita have moved their household dozens of occasions; they’re now residing in Geneva. On March 6, Anita offers delivery to their third youngster, a son named Tara Jo, and Keith goes on the highway for his newest tour with the Stones.
Anita is left behind to take care of the toddler all by herself. She feels distraught and deserted. She is utilizing onerous medication. On June 6, when the infant is simply 10 weeks outdated, he dies. It is pronounced a crib demise (what would come to be referred to as SIDS). “The Swiss doctors told me it wasn’t my fault,” writes Anita. “But if I had been more together, could I have done something?” The viewer can’t assist however marvel if the reply is sure.
I haven’t gotten to the darkest half. That’s the place Keith, on the day he learns the tragic information, is scheduled to play a live performance with the Stones. The different band members inform him he shouldn’t; he doesn’t must carry out. But Keith insists. And we see footage of that live performance. Here’s Keith, in all his hooligan brashness, cool as a cucumber onstage, churning out the guitar solo to “Honky Tonk Women.” And we are able to’t put this collectively in our heads with what simply occurred. Richards has defined that if he didn’t carry out that night time, he thought he may need shot himself. Yet his the-show-must-go-on compartmentalization nonetheless appears to be like cruelly inexplicable. And it ties into the bigger portrait of life offered by “Anita.”
If there’s any cliché phrase that’s now so cloying it might probably make your pores and skin crawl, it’s intercourse, medication, and rock ‘n’ roll. Taken collectively, these phrases have come to represent one thing paralyzing in its banality: the youth hedonism of a sure period and — greater than that — the facile manner we have a tendency to think about it. Of course, it’s not as if that ethos ever went away. (Now it’s Tinder, medication, and nightclub EDM.) Sex, medication, and rock ‘n’ roll has been the lifeblood of our free tradition for 50 years. In its overly institutionalized manner, it’s most likely extra unhinged now than it was then.
Nevertheless, if you say the phrase, you’re imparting a sure mythology to a sure life-style. You’re saying, implicitly, “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. What’s not to like?” What’s lacking from the phrase is any trace of how the holy credo of hedonism bred a tradition of recklessness. I don’t imply to return off like a right-wing scold. I nonetheless consider (who doesn’t?) within the liberating energy of enjoyment. But the reality is that the ’60s and ’70s opened the door to every kind of non secular and bodily destruction that we most likely don’t speak about as a lot as we should always, and “Anita,” as a documentary, is about all of that. As filmmakers, Zill and Bloom wish to have fun the whole lot that made Anita Pallenberg a female pressure forward of her time. And they do. But additionally they present you that Anita and Keith had a fancy relationship that was a loopy doom spiral.
In addition to Pallenberg’s memoir, the movie is constructed round a towering archive of home-movie footage, in order that we regularly really feel like we’re proper there with Anita and Keith, seeing who they have been offstage and off-camera; we expertise the candy tranquility of lives being lived. Pallenberg met the Stones in 1965, after they have been giving a live performance in Munich (again within the period, she says, earlier than Mick was dancing; he was nonetheless taking part in the maracas). Anita quickly grew to become concerned with Brian Jones, who she thought was essentially the most stunning of the Stones, and essentially the most charismatic.
Anita herself, as we see, was a fount of charisma. She had completed some modeling (which turned out to be not her factor), and she or he was a kind of Olympian ladies of the ’60s who strode right into a room and commanded it. With her bangs, regal cheekbones, and voracious broad smile, she appeared like Nico and Carly Simon and Marilyn Chambers. “I’ve been called a witch, a slut, and a murderer,” she tells us within the narration, and although she’s referencing methods she’s been dismissed, even these testify to her energy. We hear clips of Keith speaking about how she was a lady to not be crossed.
She was Italian and German and spoke in a Continental accent that added to her élan. In 1963, when she was 19, she “escaped to New York,” the place she discovered a spot within the downtown artwork scene (“I washed Jasper Johns’ brushes”), till she linked up with the Stones. By the early ’70s, married to Keith, she’d grow to be one of many informal inventors of post-counterculture rock type, as a result of the garments that Keith had grow to be celebrated for carrying (the scarves, furs, and ambisexual shirts) have been principally hers. That’s what infused his slovenly pirate factor with such type.
Pallenberg was an actress, and an excellent one. We see clips of her in “Barbarella” (1968), an in any other case preposterous film, however she performed a tyrannical heavy and made her presence felt. From the ridiculous to the chic, she co-starred in “Performance” (1970), probably the most essential movies of the period, and although the set was awash in medication, that was a part of what the film was about — the brand new decadence as aristocratic life-style. She had a quick dalliance with Mick Jagger on the time however drew away from him. If you watch “Performance” now, you’ll see that Pallenberg’s personal efficiency is superb. But Keith didn’t need her to behave — or to do something that might add as much as a profession. He was that form of possessive old-school bad-boy-as-chauvinist. She agreed to his calls for and shut herself down. If she hadn’t, Pallenberg may need been a serious presence within the motion pictures of the ’70s.
She had the potential to be an artist, however it’s partly as a result of the artistic course of by no means grew to become entrance and heart for her that “Anita” is such a singular rock-world documentary: a portrait of the life itself. Starting from the time they lived at Nellcôte, the rented villa within the south of France the place the Stones recorded “Exile on Main St.,” and the place they’d escaped to keep away from paying British taxes, Anita and Keith’s lives plunged into chaos. Nellcôte was a celebration of hangers-on that by no means stopped, and as soon as the recording periods have been over, Keith and Anita moved 20 occasions in 3 years; in keeping with Marlon, he might by no means maintain onto a set of toys. They barely furnished the properties, however for Keith the whole lot was secondary to creating music. And the medication produced a torpor that grew to become their normality, which Anita talks about with indelible candor. Keith, like the opposite Stones (nicely, aside from Brian Jones), possessed the structure of a “survivor.” But they left a path of wreckage.
We hear extra darkish tales, culminating within the notorious 1979 incident by which Scott Cantrell, a 17-year-old part-time groundsman at Keith and Anita’s property in South Salem, NY, killed himself with a gun at their home. He and Anita had been sexually concerned, and in keeping with Pallenberg they have been watching “The Deer Hunter,” the place the Russian roulette sequences impressed Cantrell to take out Keith’s gun and provides the sport a go. Pallenberg was by no means accused of authorized wrongdoing, however the incident shadowed her. There adopted extra habit, although now she was going into the scuzzpit of Alphabet City to attain, and stealing cash from pals.
Yet Anita, in her manner, was a survivor too. She cleaned up and stayed sober for 14 years. (She died in 2017, at 75, attributable to issues from hepatitis C.) You watch “Anita” and consider what she might have achieved had it not been for the medication. But, after all, it’s by no means that easy, because the documentary captures how Pallenberg’s willingness to push the whole lot to the sting and over it was inextricable from her cracked glamour. “Anita” is an important portrait, however it’s the present of devastation that makes it important.